Posts Tagged ‘Royal Ballet’

Metamorphosis: Titian 2012, Royal Ballet, Covent Garden, July 2012

15 July, 2012

This triple bill, inspired by three Titian paintings currently on view at the National Gallery (Diana and CallistoDiana and Actaeon, and The Death of Actaeon), is a tribute to Monica Mason who is retiring as artistic director of the Royal Ballet. The three ballets involved seven choreographers!

Nuñez as Diana with nymphs, all images ROH/ Johan Persson

The theme of the paintings finally came to life in the last ballet Diana and Actaeon, beautifully choreographed by Liam Scarlett, Will Tucket and Jonathan Watkins. Here we see Actaeon and his hounds, Diana and her nymphs, and witness the clash between them when he enters their space. The transformation scene where his purple hunting outfit converts to brown with dark legs, like a stag, was very well done, and when his hounds attack him, blood soaked pieces of ragged flesh appear round his haunches. The choreography was intriguingly inventive, and the pas-de-deux between Federico Bonelli as Actaeon, and Marianela Nuñez as Diana, amply expressed confusion on both sides until she finally takes command, and her nymphs come on to effect the transformation.

The set designs by Chris Ofili were fabulous, with bold colours expressing an otherworldly forest scene, reminiscent of Bakst’s dramatic designs for Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes. Dramatic dancing too from the large cast, in which Bonelli and Nuñez were exceptional. Music by Jonathan Dove, beautifully conducted by Dominic Grier, was wonderfully expressive, and the singers Kim Sheehan and Andrew Rees were excellent. This final item of the triple bill will surely stand on its own in the future and I look forward to seeing it again.

Melissa Hamilton and others in Trespass

It was particularly welcome after the second item, Trespass, featuring dull choreography by Alastair Marriott and Christopher Wheeldon to some dreary music by Mark-Anthony Turnage, conducted by Barry Wordsworth. The dancers did their best with it, and the set design by Mark Wallinger featured a huge, curved, two-way mirror, apparently inspired by the idea that Diana is goddess of the moon, and that Actaeon is trespassing on a lunar landscape. The effect of the mirror probably depended where you sat, and I suspect the ballet looked far better from the Stalls, than the Amphi.

Machina/ Acosta and Benjamin

The first item, Machina, had a more direct appeal. Here was Diana represented by designer William Shawcross as a massive industrial robot, with a light at the end of its arm. Its arm movements were so interesting one could almost miss the dance choreography. Nico Muhly’s wonderful music, very well conducted by Tom Seligman, formed a fine basis for the choreography by Kim Brandstrup and Wayne McGregor, and the only problem, as in many of McGregor’s pieces was the distraction of the clever lighting. The huge robot with the light on its arm rather overwhelmed the dancers towards the end, and the lighting by Lucy Carter showed an intriguing use of shadows as the machine moved gradually from invisibility to superb clarity. The main dancers, Leanne Benjamin, Tamara Rojo, Carlos Acosta and Edward Watson were simply superb, exhibiting the choreography to huge advantage.

But where were the flowers for Tamara Rojo and Leanne Benjamin? Huge bouquets greeted the female principals in the other two works, but there were none here. This is becoming standard practice where Rojo is concerned, and if the Royal Ballet were a less confident company one might suspect some machinations behind the scenes, since Rojo is leaving to become Artistic Director of the ENB. Surely there is another reason, particularly since this was a great tribute to Monica Mason, who appeared on stage at the end looking absolutely delighted.

The next performance is a live relay on July 16 to BP big screens, and two other performances follow on July 17 and 20 — for details click here.

Royal Ballet Triple: Birthday Offering/ A Month in the Country/ Les Noces, Covent Garden, July 2012

4 July, 2012

A second view, with a different cast — see my opening night review for more details.

Deirdre Chapman in Les Noces, image ROH/ Dee Conway

As before, Tom Seligman conducted Birthday Offering with Barry Wordsworth taking the other two ballets, and things got off to a fine start as Seligman produced swelling sounds from the orchestra to Glazunov’s Concert Waltz No. 1. Later the music interleaves excerpts from Glazunov’s Seasons, and this Ashton ballet is a delightful collection of interchanging couples, variations for the ballerinas and a major pas-de-deux beautifully performed by Marianela Nuñez and Thiago Soares. The variations all came over well, and I particularly liked Yuhui Choe in the first one, and Hikaru Kobayashi in the elegantly slow fifth one. Last time, Sarah Lamb danced the third one but this time the sixth, showing lovely arm movements, and the very difficult seventh variation was performed by Nuñez herself. The supporting men were as before, except of course Soares as the principal this time. One odd feature of the floral bouquets at the end was that Nuñez received three or four — I lost count — whereas on opening night the Company could not produce a single bouquet for Rojo. Extraordinary.

A Month in the Country was well enough danced but not as compelling as opening night, with the cast seeming less comfortable with one another. However, Alina Cojocaru stood out as the mother, the superb lightness of her dancing giving an ethereal feel to this woman who suddenly finds yearnings for which she has hitherto found no outlet. And the pas-de-quatre, with Iohna Loots as Vera, Cojocaru as the mother, Paul Kay as Kolya, and Federico Bonelli as the tutor was performed with a lovely air of spontaneity.

Valeri Hristov as the bridegroom in Les Noces, image ROH/ Johan Persson

Although I found Month less gripping than opening night, Les Noces was just as superb as before. The strange rhythmic intensity of this ballet sweeps us into a distant world of carefully planned transformation from spinsterhood to marriage. Bronislava Nijinska’s choreography was ten years after that of Nijinsky for the Rite of Spring, but is reminiscent of it, and although the chosen maiden is now merely moving into the married state, the community ritual is everything. The music is Stravinsky, as it is for Rite, and the chosen maiden was well portrayed by Kristin McNally, with Valeri Hristov a strong presence as the bridegroom. This great ballet is a perfect reason for coming to this mixed bill, and tickets can still be had for as little as four pounds — don’t miss it.

Performances continue only until July 7 — for details click here.

Royal Ballet Triple: Birthday Offering/ A Month in the Country/ Les Noces, Covent Garden, June/July 2012

1 July, 2012

This triple bill offers an evening of glorious choreography, opening with the exuberance of Ashton’s Birthday Offering.

Rojo and Bonelli, all images ROH/ Tristram Kenton

Birthday Offering, first shown in 1956 for the 25th anniversary of the Company (then known as the Sadler’s Wells Ballet), starts with the melodious phrases of Glazunov’s Concert Waltz No. 1, and Tom Seligman in the orchestra pit made it swell with pride and energy. The choreography is full of charm and inventiveness, and the fourteen dancers, led by Tamara Rojo and Federico Bonelli, performed it beautifully. Among the six supporting men I particularly liked Brian Maloney, who showed wonderful head and arm movements, and the seven variations for the girls were a delight, starting superbly with Yuhui Choe. Helen Crawford showed excellent technique in the very difficult variation number seven, and Tamara Rojo came last in variation six, dancing brilliantly, both alone and with Bonelli. Costumes by Andre Levasseur are stunning, and this made a perfect start to the evening, but where was the floral bouquet for Rojo? A similar thing happened to her with the recent Prince of the Pagodas — very odd.

Yanowsky and Pennefather

From the unalloyed pleasure of Birthday Offering the evening moved to the drama of A Month in the Country, created by Ashton in 1976. To music by Chopin, arranged by John Lanchbery, this one-act ballet condenses the main aspects of Turgenev’s play using choreography that fully expresses the emotions of the characters. Zenaida Yanowsky gave a superb portrayal of the mother, exhibiting her customary flirtation with Rakitin at the start, followed by her attraction for the new tutor and finally her anguish at his departure. As he flees the house she struck a lovely pose of pensive regret by the doorway before stepping very slowly into the room, bringing the ballet to its close. In the meantime her sudden loss of interest in Rakitin was perfectly expressed, and Gary Avis gave a finely drawn portrait of this family friend. Her jealousy of Vera was beautifully judged, and Emma Maguire was superb as Vera, with her own fit of jealousy stunningly expressed. As the attractive young  tutor, who brings such immense confusion to the household, Rupert Pennefather was perfect, showing in his solos just the right joy and angst on occasion, and his partnering of both the mother and Vera was beautifully done. This performance of Month was worth the whole triple bill, with Birthday Offering as one bonus, and Les Noces as another.

Les Noces with Christina Arestis (top) as the bride

Les Noces is an extraordinary work, supported not only by an orchestra, but four pianists, and four vocal soloists plus chorus. Bronislava Nijinska’s stylised choreography to music and song-text by Stravinsky shows the preparations and ritual surrounding a peasant wedding, and Natalia Goncharova’s costumes in brown and white express the unifying power and conservatism of the local culture. There are analogies with the Rite of Spring, but here the chosen one is the bride whose previous life is being converted to one of procreation and duty to her husband, according to the implacable force of tradition and the collective will of the community. The dancers brought the choreography to life with huge force, and Ryoichi Hirano made the bridegroom a tall and powerful figure, with Christina Arestis suitably pliant as the wife. This ballet, always an invigorating experience to watch, brought the evening to a perfect close.

It’s a triple bill not to be missed, and I shall report on a different cast next week. Performances continue only until July 7, so book immediately — for details click here.

The Prince of the Pagodas, Royal Ballet, Covent Garden, June 2012

3 June, 2012

King Lear meets Sleeping Beauty in this mid-1950s fairy tale creation by John Cranko, to music commissioned from Benjamin Britten. After the Cranko ballet fell out of the repertoire, Kenneth MacMillan made his own version in 1989. This revival now contains some cuts to the music that he originally intended, but was not permitted to make.

The central character is Princess Rose, who leaves her father’s court, his crown having been taken by her elder half-sister, Princess Épine. She travels to the Other World, conquers her fears and returns to re-enliven the king, put Épine to flight, and become betrothed once more to her prince.

Marianela Nuñez and Nehemiah Kish, all images Johan Persson

Marianela Nuñez was a serenely beautiful Princess Rose, who danced divinely, and Tamara Rojo was enormously powerful as the scheming Princess Épine. Nehemiah Kish as the prince made a fine partner for Nuñez, and gave a strong performance as the salamander whose form he takes, testing Rose’s ability to show compassion and move beyond mere platonic love.

Nuñez and Kish in Act II

The four kings from Acts I and III, who appear in nightmarish form in Act II, were superbly danced by Bennet Gartside (north), Valeri Hristov (east), Steven McRae (west) and Ricardo Cervera (south), and despite the disguising make-up, McRae’s wonderful dancing gave him away, and his camp portrayal was glorious. The big male solo role of the Fool, who guides Princess Rose, was brilliantly performed by Alexander Campbell, and the whole company danced beautifully. Alastair Marriott was excellent as the old king who, like Lear, is apportioning his kingdom to his daughters. His body language reminded me of the Red King in Checkmate, and his recovery when Rose reappears was superbly performed.

The fine designs by Nicholas Georgiardis are well lit by John B. Read, and we have Monica Mason to thank for a well-judged revival of this MacMillan ballet. The large orchestra under the baton of Barry Wordsworth was once again in top form after the recent Salome, and considering the huge amount of work and careful attention to detail by the team responsible for this production it is astonishing the Royal Opera House made such a mess of the flowers at the end. Nuñez received three lovely bouquets, while Rojo merely got a small bunch wrapped in paper. Embarrassing for the Company, and something of an insult to a superb dancer who is leaving soon to become artistic director of the English National Ballet. She will be sorely missed and the audience roared their approval at her solo curtain calls.

Performances continue until June 29 — for details click here.

La Fille mal gardée, with McRae and Marquez, Royal Ballet, Covent Garden, May 2012

13 May, 2012

La Fille mal gardée is one of Frederick Ashton’s most delightful ballets, and this review covers the same cast as for the live cinema relay on May 16.

McRae and Marquez, all images ROH/ Tristram Kenton

The story is simple. Widow Simone wants to marry off her very pretty daughter Lise to the son of a wealthy landowner, thereby assuring her and her daughter’s financial future. There are just two problems. Lise is in love with a local farmhand named Colas, and the landowner’s son, Alain is a simpleton, easily outwitted by the lovers.

Alain and Widow Simone

The ballet was first created in the year of the French Revolution, and nearly thirty years later in 1828 a new score was written by Ferdinand Hérold. In 1960 Ashton asked John Lanchbery to revitalise Herold’s music, which he did by re-orchestrating it and inserting new music by himself and other composers such as Rossini. The result is simply wonderful.

The sheer joy of the music, the clarity of the story, and the subtlety of the choreography combine to form a glorious whole, but be in no doubt, the choreography, particularly for the leading male dancer, Colas is not easy. Fortunately this cast had the superb Steven McRae as Colas, performing beautifully as well as looking and acting the part. McRae is one of the finest dancers in the Company, and his lover was Roberta Marquez, who portrayed Lise with delightful charm. Good chemistry, and fine pas-de-deux work, the bum lift in Act I effortlessly accomplished, unlike with the previous cast I saw, where it turned into a shoulder lift.

It all starts in the early morning with the cockerel and four hens, and Michael Stojko was a brilliant cockerel, showing excellent control. Widow Simone was Philip Mosley, who plays this role very well, without overdoing the comedy, and the interplay between widow and daughter was beautifully done. The wealthy landowner Thomas was brought to life by Gary Avis, portraying this charmless man to perfection, particularly after the lovers are discovered together near the end, and his son Alain very well danced by Ludovic Ondiviela, displaying more jest than pathos, though pathos should be the key here.

Widow and daughter

Altogether a fine cast and a lovely performance, well supported by Barry Wordsworth in the orchestra pit. Unfortunately there is only one performance left this season — the live relay on May 16 — and nothing next season.

La Fille mal gardée, with Choe and Maloney, Royal Ballet, Covent Garden, May 2012

5 May, 2012

For a witty pastoral story of young love triumphing over a widow’s desire to marry her daughter into wealth this ballet is hard to beat. First created in 1789, the year of the French revolution, its characters are ordinary folk, unlike the stylized shepherds and shepherdesses seen on stage at that time.

The scenario is refreshingly simple — a model of how a light comic ballet should be constructed — and Ashton’s wonderful 1960 version for the Royal Ballet is a delight. It uses music created by John Lanchbery, based on Ferdinand Hérold’s 1828 score, and the result is a bundle of fun. Ashton’s choreography has been widely adopted, but though looking superficially simple is not easy to dance well.

Cockerel and hens, all images Tristram Kenton

It all starts with four hens and a cockerel, amusingly performed here by Liam Scarlett, and we then meet Lise, delightfully danced by Yuhui Choe. Perpetually trying to get away from her mother’s restrictions, she leaves a pink ribbon tied in a lovers’ knot for her beloved Colas, danced by Brian Maloney. He made a good partner for Choe, elegant and enthusiastic, but the choreography proved too much for him, and his solos were not a success — off the music, marking some turns, and landing badly. This is a pity because if the Company really concentrated on getting this ballet right it’s a winner.

Alain enters

However, Michael Stojko gave a very fine performance of Alain, simpleton son of a wealthy landowner, and the would-be fiancé of Lise. He had the pathos, he had the shy wit, and his clumsy dancing was beautifully done. When he climbed in at the end to retrieve his red umbrella he rounded off the ballet perfectly. Lise’s mother, Widow Simone was well portrayed by Philip Mosley, without the overdone antics that I’ve seen in some other performers. The ballet is not really about her, and I think he played it just right.

Osbert Lancaster’s sets for this ballet have a perennial charm, and if you have never seen it before, then it’s a must-see. The problem was the dancing, but if you don’t know the details you may not notice anything amiss. For example in Act I of this performance the long pink ribbon lay rather flaccid on the floor as Lise jumped over it, and at the end of Act II there was no bum lift. But the music was super, well conducted by Barry Wordsworth, and next week I shall report on a different cast headed by Steven McRae and Roberta Marquez.

Performances with various casts continue until May 16 — for details click here.

Royal Ballet Triple: Polyphonia/ Sweet Violets/ Carbon Life, Covent Garden, April 2012

6 April, 2012

This was an entirely twenty-first century triple bill.

Polyphonia, all images by Bill Cooper

The first work, Christopher Wheeldon’s Polyphonia, set to ten piano pieces by Ligeti, was first shown in New York at the start of the century, January 2001. The large Covent Garden stage gave space to the spare minimalism of Wheeldon’s choreography, with darkness sometimes surrounding a spot for the dancers. It has the sense of a sequence of études created for four couples, and along with the pas-de-deux work there is a section for three female dancers and another for two males in contest with one another. The silences between the ten sections and the purity of the piano sound give it a contemplative feel, and it was beautifully danced. It was only spoilt by some handkerchief-less members of the audience who couldn’t control their tousserie.

Leanne Cope and Thiago Soares

Sweet Violets is such a pretty title, quite in contrast to the content of this brilliant new work by Liam Scarlett. It starts with an incident on September 11th, 1907 when a part-time prostitute named Emily Dimmock was murdered in her own home. Her partner returned the next day to find her throat slit from ear to ear. Nothing had been taken, the motive was a mystery, and this infamous Camden Town Murder was never solved. What inspired Scarlett was a series of paintings and drawings by Walter Sickert, who specialised in portraying the deep, dark underworld of London. His role was performed with admirable understatement by Johan Kobborg, whose friend was the murderer in this take on the story. Sickert’s friend, very well portrayed by Thiago Soares, obviously has two sides to his nature, and the fight with the prostitute was wonderfully realistic as he grappled with Leanne Cope, superb as the unfortunate Emily Dimmock. But that is only the start. This is a full-length story in one act, intense, brutal, and with ramifications at the highest level.

Kobborg as Sickert and McRae as Jack

The story has been set in the late 1880s when Queen Victoria’s grandson Eddy was still alive, and Lord Salisbury was prime minister. Both or them appear here, portrayed by Federico Bonelli and Christopher Saunders, to say nothing of Jack the Ripper, played as a very sinister character by Steven McRae. Laura Morera, Alina Cojocaru and Tamara Rojo danced beautifully, the first two as historical characters, and Rojo as an alluring artist’s model. This was a fabulous performance by an all-power cast, and a senior member of the Company told me the other cast is equally terrific.

Rachmaninov’s music for piano, violin and cello was beautifully played, and John Macfarlane’s designs, with David Finn’s lighting, gave a sombre, threatening atmosphere to the whole business. The clever use at one point of a stage and audience within the stage allows us to see the backs of the performers, making it feel as if we are looking in at things we should not really see. I shall go again, and again. Scarlett’s inspired new work is worth the whole triple bill.

Carbon Life

The third item, Carbon Life was a new creation by Wayne McGregor. Like his other work it involved unusual lighting design, this time by Lucy Carter, and I loved the clever way in which the dancers at the start appeared to glow in the dark. The whole thing was in several parts, with rock music and rap performed by musicians behind the dancers. Costumes ranged from simple swimming trunks to elaborate black outfits having pointed hoods, with cross-dressing allowed. The overall impression was of a very high quality music and dance video. Fun, balletic, and full of frivolity.

Performances of this triple bill continue until April 23 — for details click here.

Romeo and Juliet, with Cuthbertson and Bonelli, Royal Ballet, Covent Garden, March 2012

23 March, 2012

This was the evening of a live cinema relay, though I was seated in the Royal Opera House itself.

Kenneth MacMillan’s version of Romeo and Juliet with its wonderful choreography is what the Royal Ballet performs, and this jewel has been taken up by some other ballet companies such as American Ballet Theatre. There is no comparison with the Mariinsky’s old Soviet version, and I prefer it to the one by Nureyev for the English National Ballet. The designs by Nicholas Giorgiadis evoke just the right atmosphere, and the whole thing is perennially fresh.

Cuthbertson and Bonelli, image by Bill Cooper

In this performance, Lauren Cuthbertson danced a beautiful Juliet, interacting superbly with the Romeo of Federico Bonelli. Their chemistry was excellent and their pas-de-deux work glorious. Of course the eponymous characters are vital, but this was a brilliant team effort. Romeo’s friends Mercutio and Benvolio were exceptionally well portrayed by Alexander Campbell and Dawid Trzensimiech, Campbell performing some superb coupé jetés. The three friends were all very much in tune with one another, and the three harlots were excellent, red-headed Itziar Mendizabal in particular.

On the Capulet side, Bennett Gartside made a very effective Tybalt, never quite losing it, but determined and furious until it’s his turn to die. In the second sword fight, with Romeo after he has killed Mercutio, he cleverly showed himself to be exhausted, and at this point it’s all over for him. Christina Arestis then portrayed a desperately emotive Lady Capulet, and Act II ends. In Act III, Cristopher Saunders came through as a brutally determined Capulet, and Valeri Hristov made a suitably wimpish Paris, rather too eager to win his Juliet.

Scene in the square, image by Johan Persson

In smaller roles, Kristen McNally made a charmingly fussy nurse, interacting very well with the three young men when she delivers Juliet’s letter, and after the big fight between Montagues and Capulets, Gary Avis showed fine stage presence as the Prince of Verona, condemning both sides and ordering them to keep the peace.

Prokofiev’s wonderful music drives everything, and the orchestra warmed up after a very shaky start under the baton of Barry Wordsworth. By the end of Act I they were playing much better, producing some real musical tension to impel the drama forward from scene to scene until finally Paris, Romeo and Juliet all lie dead in the tomb.

Performances at the Royal Opera House with various casts continue until March 31 — for details click here.

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Royal Ballet, Covent Garden, March 2012

18 March, 2012

In the world of dreams real people can take on strange identities, and so it is here. It all starts at tea in a large garden, where Alice’s mother ejects her daughter’s beloved Jack, the gardener’s son.

Alice, all images Johan Persson

To distract the disappointed Alice, Lewis Carroll conjures up a large hole in the ground and disappears down it, growing a bunny tail and long ears. He has become the white rabbit, encouraging Alice to follow him down the hole. We see a video projection as she floats down, landing up in front of an array of doors. Shrinking and growing she tries to squeeze through a small door, and suddenly the auditorium fills with colourful performers, bright confetti raining down on them from the dome above. The effects are wonderful, and while Lewis Carroll has become the white rabbit, Alice’s father and mother turn into the King and Queen of Hearts, with Jack as the Knave, accused of stealing the tarts, and appearing in court. But was it Jack, or was it the vicar, who becomes the March Hare? Other people from the garden party appear too: the magician who arrives to entertain them becomes the Mad Hatter, and the Rajah who arrives with his retinue becomes the Caterpillar.

In an entirely different development, this revival has converted the two acts of the world premiere a year ago — see my review at the time — into three acts, a welcome change.

Steven McRae as the Mad Hatter

On opening night this time around, Lauren Cuthbertson repeated her wonderful performance of Alice, and Federico Bonelli did well in the role of Jack, taking over from Sergei Polunin who has vanished from the scene. Once again Edward Watson was very fine as Lewis Carroll and the White Rabbit, and Eric Underwood was a super Caterpiller. Laura Morera was a strong Queen of Hearts, but Philip Mosley lacked stage presence as the Duchess, particularly compared to Simon Russell Beale last year. As for the Mad Hatter, Steven McRae was superb again, his tap dancing utterly brilliant.

Joby Talbot’s music, conducted again by Barry Wordsworth, provides just the right atmosphere, giving a hot summery feel to the garden party in Act I, and I like the allusions to the Rose Adagio in Sleeping Beauty, and the clock scene in Cinderella. Bob Crowley’s designs are glorious, beautifully lit by Natasha Katz, and the scenario by Nicholas Wright brings Lewis Carroll’s story very cleverly to the ballet stage. The dream becomes real, but in the end Alice falls back into the real world, returning to the garden party with Jack, and the dream seems to have done the trick.

Performances continue until April 16 — for details click here.

The Dream with Marquez and McRae, Song of the Earth with Watson, Benjamin and Hristov, Royal Ballet, Covent Garden, February 2012

9 February, 2012

When Frederick Ashton choreographed Dream in 1964 to celebrate the four hundredth anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth, he created a magical evocation of the play with Oberon and Titania danced by a very young Anthony Dowell and Antoinette Sibley, and every time I see this ballet I recall Dowell’s performances. But Steven McRae rose to the challenge of this fiendishly difficult role, and his slow pirouettes near the sleeping body of Demetrius were beautifully executed. His pas-de-deux work with Roberta Marquez was wonderful, and she made a lovely Titania, though her performance would have been even better if she had felt the music rather than treat it as background. Laura McCulloch, Thomas Whitehead, Melissa Hamilton and Ryoichi Hirano were all excellent as the lovers, Michael Stojko was an acrobatic but ineffective Puck, and Bennett Gartside was superb as Bottom. His head movements allowed him to infuse the character with a charming wonder at what was happening to him.

Fairies in Dream, ROH photo/ Dee Conway

Mendelssohn’s incidental music for the play, originally turned into a ballet score by John Lanchbery, was conducted here by Barry Wordsworth, but the musical performance lacked sparkle and conviction. Pity.

Kenneth MacMillan originally created Song of the Earth for the Stuttgart Ballet in 1965 after the board at Covent Garden had initially turned it down, considering Mahler’s composition a masterpiece that should not be touched. It was a huge success and Ashton immediately invited MacMillan to bring it from Stuttgart to London where it was also received to great acclaim.

Edward Watson, ROH photo/ Bill Cooper

The three main roles on February 8 were danced here by Edward Watson as the Messenger of Death, with Valeri Hristov and Leanne Benjamin as the Man and Woman who are attached to one another and the transient things of this life. The dancing was superb, and Watson was gloriously powerful. Both he and Benjamin were supremely musical, but Hristov who has danced this role before seemed oddly uncomfortable, his body language lacking conviction. This was a pity because the nineteen-strong cast otherwise performed to perfection, with wonderful leading roles by Ricardo Cervera, Sarah Lamb and Lauren Cuthbertson.

Musically, Mahler’s composition to Tang dynasty songs translated into German has a sense of mystery that is beautifully encapsulated by MacMillan’s choreography, with simple costumes and excellent lighting design by John B. Read. Fine singing by Katharine Goeldner, and Tom Randle replacing Toby Spence.

There are now just two further performances, on February 9 and March 5 — for details click here.